Monthly Archives: March 2007

The Audreys, at the Docklands.

The Audreys were playing last night in the Docklands, and since I’d been in the city for dinner, I decided to pop along for a look.

The show was part of a larger line-up for Moomba, and the host introducing them was touting it as the “first time Moomba had ever come to the Docklands”. Well, if the number of patrons there was any indication of the location’s popularity, I suspect it will be the last time, too.

When the band started playing, there were probably no more than fifteen people watching, although this grew to about a total of around 35, as lead-singer Taasha’s amazing voice attracted the few passers-by that were in the area. I saw them play about a month ago, at the St Kilda festival to a huge audience, but this was a very different affair.

I don’t quite understand why successive governments have been pushing the Docklands. The area itself isn’t anything to write home about – I recall one real estate agency advertising a development there as “the only place in Melbourne with north-facing water views”, declining to mention that those northern views were of industry, and that on the western edge, there is The Port of Melbourne, hardly one of Melbourne’s prettier sights. Looming not far off in the distance is the concrete disaster known as the Bolte Bridge – fortunately they didn’t name it after a politician that I respect. Waterfront City, where the concert was staged, seemed to consist of little more than a few high-rise apartment buildings, a big tent (which was closed) and a bunch of generic, American fast-food stores.

To top it off, the area has fairly abismal public transport. It’s a long walk from Spencer St station, and the trams there aren’t particularly frequent. In all, it’s quite an inappropriate venue for a night-time concert, and it would have been much better off held at the Alexandra Gardens, as there certainly were plenty of people in the Melbourne CBD last night.

The band, however, made the best of the situation and, under the impression that there were only four people in the audience – the stage lights were blinding them – called everyone over to crowd around in front of the stage, and seemed pleasantly surprised to see that so many people had braved the cold wind to watch them play. They played songs mostly from their debut album, although there may have been one newer track. In all, it was a really good set, and I recommend going to see them play if they’re in your area.

Internet shopping

Could someone explain to me why I would pay $29.67 + shipping for a CD (unless I buy a second item at the same time), when it’s highly likely that I can buy the same CD for $24 at JB Hifi next time I pass their store?

I thought the idea of buying online was that it was meant to be cheaper, because the stores were able to do without all the shopfront staff, and could streamline all their warehouse operations. Without a significant monetary saving, internet purchases have little benefit.

They certainly aren’t more convenient – you either have to coordinate your movements to be sure that you’re home when a courier arrives or risk having to visit a post-office during business hours (and it’s amazing how difficult that is, if you work 9-6); there is generally a few weeks lead time (add that to the books getting lost in transit, as happened to me with Amazon when I was in Amsterdam)… and then, there’s always the issue of wondering just how they store your credit card number.

Remote access cards – how hard can it be?

I often wonder why it is so difficult for server manufacturers to make decent remote access cards. When your servers are located offsite, or require twenty-hour support, then it’s imperative that you have some way to access the machine remotely, when it requires maintenance. There’s nothing more annoying than having to travel half-way across town just to reboot a machine that you can’t get to (and I’ve done this many a time, when I was living in Amsterdam).

Modern server manufacturers seem to have a lot of trouble getting these things right. It really shouldn’t be that difficult. I started out as a sysadmin on Sun equipment, back in the mid-90s, and even back then Sun had it mostly right: a Sparc serial port is also the machine’s console. Even if the operating system is crashed, you can send a break down the line and it will fall back to the boot prom. Sure, they had their bugs – if you run a probe-scsi without resetting the prom first, it will lock up hard and need a power-cycle, but this could be worked around with a remote power switch – at least it was easy to get to, and furthermore, you didn’t need anything more than a phone line, modem and a dumb terminal to access it.

Now look at what you get from modern server manufacturers: expensive, bloated add-ons like HP’s iLo, IBM’s RSA and Dell’s DRAC. The DRAC isn’t too bad; at least it is capable of redirecting the BIOS boot screen down the serial line. But it’s still overly complex and involves messing around with java even just to log onto its web console. HP’s iLO doesn’t have the serial line redirect (although you can, fortunately, still access a console via ssh), requires an extra licence to make it do anything useful (seriously, who would be paying the large sums for an HP and not want those features?) and I have seen them crash all on their own more times than I care to remember. But my scorn today is reserved for the RSA card, truely the least pleasant of a bad bunch.

I’ve spent the morning trying to access the RSA console of a server in India that is not responding, but it’s an exercise in frustration. Initially, to set this machine up, a special driver had to be compiled and installed in the operating system for the console to even work, which is problematic enough – at least the cards from other manufacturers worked out of the box. Then the card had to be set to “Linux”, for reasons that escape me, before the keyboard would work. And now, I find that it only works under IE – under Windows, not wine. And there’s no other way of getting to the console, not even telnet.

Three years ago, when I was in Amsterdam, I was able to fix 90%25 of our out-of-hours problems with nothing more than a Nokia communicator. This is important, because it means that when you’re on-call, you’re not tied to your house and you don’t need to lug a laptop around with you everywhere. These days, a GSM phone couldn’t even cope with the bandwidth required to access the RSA card alone.

Sun had all this stuff right over fifteen years ago. Why do modern hardware companies find it so difficult to do?

And so, it begins…

Is this thing working? tap tap tap…